Sunday, August 17, 2008

Church at a Bar

I was discussing spiritual things with a Jehovah's Witness several years ago and she made a comment that caught me off guard:

"You Christians are always bickering over petty issues. You're hopelessly divided over doctrines and methods. You've got your splits, cliques and denominational walls. Who would want to be a part of that?"


Having nothing to say and knowing she was right, I changed the subject.

I wish I could have known back then to say this: There is a difference between uniformity and what she claimed to have in her church--unity.

Uniformity depends on everyone seeing eye to eye, agreeing on all points of the law, worshipping the same way and holding to all the same convictions. Been there, done that.

True unity, on the other hand, is not dependent on any of the above. In fact, the more diverse the crowd, the more meaningful the "unity of the Spirit," as described in the book of Ephesians. When believers are unified, the only common ground they need is love for our Lord Jesus. All differences fade away in the light of Who He is.

Ephesians says Jesus came to tear down the walls we put up between ourselves. While so many Christians insist on keeping those walls erected, some are choosing to keep them down. I saw evidence of this today, of all places, in a nightclub.
Passersby on route 352 in Big Flats may have wondered what was happening at Tags on this bright Sunday morning. They may have been surprised to find out that we were having---church?

Yup. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we should hang out in the places He did. And scripture makes it clear--he liked being with "nonnies." He had lunch in their homes and sat in their taverns. It was the religious folk who were disturbed by this habit of His.

But what I most enjoyed about this morning's gathering was not just our willingness to rub shoulders with "the world," but the fact that five churches closed their doors today and gathered together to celebrate our common thread--Jesus Christ. What made it so remarkable was the diversity in the crowd. I know most of the ministers represented, and many people in their churches. Let me tell ya, we aren't cut from the same mold. We worship, believe and baptize differently. We vary in all things color, age, education and political persuassion. Why last year even the local Rabbi and his wife joined us. If there were ever reason to raise walls, the several hundred people gathered at Tags today had them.

But our unity centered on our love for a Man Who loves us all.

The service began with a time of praise and worship, led by band members from different congregations. A dance team performed a very hip-hop rendition of "Awesome God" and then we enjoyed an inspiring message by Bob Cornwall, a man not affiliated with any church, but who travels from place to place encouraging believers to stay unified and fulfill the Great Commission. Afterward people purchased food prepared by Tags and sat around catching up on each others' lives, or getting to know one another for the first time. I looked around; people of Catholic, Methodist, Weslyan, Pentecostal, CMA and Baptist backgrounds were smiling, laughing and stuffing their faces. No one seemed to be quibbling over predestination and free will. It was a little (and quite literal, to be sure) taste of Heaven on earth. There is simply no other religion in which members can be so divided and yet united at the same time.

Then again, this isn't exactly a religion, is it? The Church is a family, a group of people in relationship. You know how your own family members can differ in points of view, yet the family name unites you. We have the same family name. What's more, because of the cross, we're blood related! I could start preaching right here.

It was suggested we send a thank you card to the owner of Tags for the free use of his facility. I hope many people follow through. It is my hope that someone looking on at this event today took note that: we are grateful for such a lovely meeting place, we left it clean, and we love one another. Who knows, maybe that girl I talked to years ago was looking on with curiosity....